For the rest of the 2012 college football regular season, I will be listing "Five prospects" each Friday that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend.
*Photo courtesy of Kim Klement, US Presswire.
In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, not just the five I've highlighted below. The players listed are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.
Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores as the season goes on. Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.*
Montel Harris, RB, Temple: Facing a Rutgers' defense that ranked second in the country in run defense heading into last week (currently third), Harris and his Owl teammates looked like they were on the verge of pulling a significant upset by running productively early (74 rushing yards in first quarter alone) and taking a 10-0 lead into halftime. The Scarlet Knights erupted in the second half to make the game a 35-10 laugher but the game demonstrated why scouts remain intrigued by the natural running skills offered by Harris, who transferred from Boston College after setting the school's all-time leading rushing mark (3,735). Harris has since struggled with injuries and off-field issues, getting released from his scholarship at BC due to a number of undisclosed violations of team rules but he remains a workhorse back capable of surprising at the next level. The 5-10, 207 pound back will be an obvious focus for a Pittsburgh Panthers' defense that has allowed an average of 142.71 yards per game but has surrendered just three touchdowns on the ground. This game begins at noon eastern and will be televised by The Big East Network and ESPN3.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: When healthy, Jones (pictured above) has proven to be one of college football's true impact players. Unfortunately, he's struggled with durability throughout his career and comes into the "Cocktail Party" against rival Florida needing to show scouts some bourbon burn rather than the delicacy of fine wine. Jones originally signed with Southern California out of high school but transferred to Georgia after suffering a neck injury that USC doctors refused to clear. Last year he was arguably college football's most dynamic pass rusher, posting 19.5 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks. This year, Jones has already missed two games (including last week's contest against Kentucky with a groin pull) and yet still ranks among the nation's most disruptive defenders with 9.5 tackles for loss thus far, including a team-high 5.5 sacks. The Bulldogs' defense is more gifted than any unit No. 2 Florida and breakout senior running back Mike Gillislee has faced thus far this season. For my money there hasn't been a young quarterback demonstrate more exciting upside thus far this season than the Gators' sophomore sensation Jeff Driskel, but with a stout defensive line led by nose guard John Jenkins and Abry Jones and another playmaking linebacker in Alec Ogletree, the young signal-caller could have his hands full in this contest. Jones has shown the ability to take over games both this season (Missouri) and in the past, including a career-high four sack performance last year against the Gators. Needless to say, Florida will be focusing a great deal of their blocking scheme this year to protect against a similar performance. This game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 pm eastern and will be televised by CBS.
Nickell Roby, CB, Southern Cal*: The top two senior cornerbacks in the Pac-12 will be "facing off" when Jordan Poyer and the OSU Beavers head up to Seattle to take on Desmond Trufant and the UW Huskies. Pound for pound, however, one could argue that the conference's top corner might be the Trojans' Roby, who will face a stiff test of his own Saturday against Arizona, their legitimate NFL-caliber quarterback Matt Scott and a pair of talented (and tall) Wildcat receivers in Austin Hill (6-3, 211) and Dan Buckner (6-4, 214). Considering that USC lists Roby at 5-08, 165 pounds, it is easy to see why scouts will be quite interested to see how the diminutive corner holds up in this contest, especially given Scott's willingness to throw (only six QBs in the country have thrown more than his 311 passes, thus far). Don't sell Roby "short," however. While smaller than scouts would like, the junior is physical, instinctive and a ball-hawk (seven career interceptions). He's also a three-year starter who some suggest could be looking to leave for the NFL after this season. This game begins at 3:30 pm eastern and will be televised by ABC/ESPN2.
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: I expect the vast majority of the hype around the battle between No. 5 ranked Notre Dame and No. 8 Oklahoma to center around the three biggest names (from an NFL draft perspective) playing in this contest -- the Irish's playmaking middle linebacker Manti Te'o and matchup nightmare at tight end Tyler Eifert, as well as Sooners' quarterback Landry Jones, the most productive passer in Oklahoma's long history. In my opinion, however, the winner of this game will be determined (as it often is) at the line of scrimmage. The difference between this year's Notre Dame and some of their other recent top teams is clearly the size, strength and athleticism of the Irish's front four on the defensive line. Oklahoma has long produced highly regarded offensive linemen and Johnson, who signed with the Sooners after playing quarterback in high school and junior college, saw time initially at tight end and defensive end before making the switch to right tackle a year ago. He's played well thus far this season and with one of the top senior offensive tackles already succumbing to injury, Johnson has the upside to make a huge leap up draft boards, especially if he can handle the speed and physicality Notre Dame will present Saturday night. This game is scheduled to begin at 8:00 pm eastern and will be televised by ABC.
Cameron Lawrence, OLB, Mississippi State: Let's face it, top-ranked defending champion Alabama has looked unbeatable thus far this season but with the undefeated Mississippi State Bulldogs heading to Tuscaloosa Saturday night, the Tide will be getting their stiffest test thus far. Few outside of Starkville seem to have taken notice but head coach Dan Mullen has done a terrific job of building this program with legitimate NFL-caliber athletes. The Bulldogs have seen linemen drafted in the first round in each of the past two NFL drafts (OT Derek Sherrod, DT Fletcher Cox) and while I do not expect their highest rated lineman in the 2013 draft class, DT Josh Boyd, to match his former teammates' draft grades Boyd and his linemates will be among the tougher matchups Alabama's elite offensive linemen have faced this season. Combine this with the fact that Tide quarterback AJ McCarron will be facing an athletic, ball-hawking secondary led by my top-rated cornerback Johnthan Banks (No. 13 overall on my Big Board) and it is easy to see some expect this game to a physical, low-scoring affair. I'm particularly interested to see how the Bulldogs' linebackers play in this game, especially Lawrence, who really surprised me based on my summer review. Athletic and possessing greater toughness and fundamental play than expected considering his first few years with the Bulldogs were split between quarterback, receiver and safety, Lawrence could use a strong performance against the Tide's stellar running game to boost his grade significantly. This game is scheduled to begin at 8:30 pm eastern and will be televised by ESPN.